I met my best friend, Mateo Gin-Tarango when we were in the eighth grade, and we’ve been close since. Both Mateo and I were raised by single mothers. But we connected with a deeper understanding that being raised by single mothers actually meant having an abundance of a family rather than lacking a parent. Our mothers—tenacious and loving as they are—created networks of support systems of strong, influential women who mothered us. Women who brushed our hair, cooked our meals, picked us up from school, told us stories, and guided us through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Of these women, one stands out. She is Mateo’s grandmother, Mary Tarango whom they drew in the third grade when asked to draw pictures of their superhero.
Colleen Taylor is the president of Merchants Services at American Express, a Spelman College Trustee and more. Her executive accomplishments are manifold. But she saved the best job title for last on her impressive resume “favorite auntie to fourteen nieces and nephews.” When talking with Taylor, she exudes pride with stories and gratitude for her role and how those relationships have shaped her life. Taylor also has a stepson from her late wife, Carol, whom Taylor praised as an “awesome, amazing young man.” Taylor explained how auntie relationships are different from parenting. “You don’t have the pressure of authority. I encourage them to experience everything.”
In March 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, the Auntie Sewing Squad was founded by comedian Kristina Wong to provide masks to those unable to access them for financial reasons or other hardships. Unbeknownst to Wong when she started, the group would grow to a considerable size, receive media attention, and importantly, go on to sew and distribute over 350,000 masks to groups ranging from First Nations communities, migrants seeking asylum, farm workers, and a variety of other organizations, many based in California. Fronted by women of color, the organization took on the title “auntie,” as aunties across the country sewed over thousands of handmade masks to supply to underprivileged communities to help protect them from COVID-19.
“I ain’t none of your damn auntie. I ain’t no kin to you. My name is Alice Caldwell Smith…You see how black I am. I am not your aunt. Don’t call me aunt,” said noted poet Lucille Clifton on what Aunt Jemima would have said to people who called her out of her name.
“Well, in line with my thinking about names, I was thinking about those names that we hold dear, and we take for granted. These are in their voices, and I do voices I think pretty well. Or well enough, at any rate. This is called Aunt Jemima. She is speaking,” said Clifton during an interview with Significant Poets (1).
If someone asked me how many aunts I have, I probably wouldn’t get the number right—there are just so many of them. After consulting with my mom, however, I have confirmed that I have eight aunts in total. Four are my mom’s sisters and four are my dad’s sisters. Two are in Los Angeles, CA, one is in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and five are in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Those five I haven’t seen since the last time I visited my parent’s home country, which was in 2010 when I was 12 years old.